Skip To Content

YIVO to digitize millions of documents from Jewish Labor Bund

The effort will make countless artifacts available for the first time

For almost half a century, the pulse of much of the Jewish Diaspora was the Bund, a combination labor union, political party and social organization. 

But for years the only way to see those signs of life — the summer camps, schools, music ensembles and the picket lines — was to visit the archives and know what you were looking for.

Now, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research will digitize the Jewish Labor Bund archive, some 3.5 million pages of documents, photos, flyers and correspondence from revolutionary leaders like Emma Goldman and David Dubinsky. The digitization will make these artifacts accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

The Bund Archive was established in 1899 in Geneva, Switzerland, two years after the Bund was founded in 1897 in Vilna, Lithuania. Rehoused in 1919 at the German Social-Democratic Party building, it came under threat with Hitler’s rise to power. The archive’s caretakers smuggled its contents into France in French Diplomatic pouches, nominally selling it to the French government.

Remarkably, though the Nazis seized the archive in 1944, much of it survived the war. The Bund Archives have been at YIVO since 1992.

Der Hammer was a New York-based Yiddish Communist monthly. Tony award-winning scenic designer Boris Aronson created the cover for this November 1927 edition. Courtesy of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

“In addition to providing fascinating material about Jewish political activity in pre-Revolutionary Russia and interwar Europe, these collections reveal the impact of an important aspect of the Jewish immigrant community on American politics and social life and deepen our understanding of the American Jewish experience,” Jonathan Brent, CEO and executive director at YIVO, said in a statement.

Indeed, while the archives contain photographs of a Zionist Socialist self-defense class in 1905 Latvia, war refugees dining in Shanghai and even a snapshot of Nazi atrocities taken from the Lodz ghetto, their collection extends to America, where Bundists flourished and continued their fight for workers’ rights and against new forms of antisemitism. 

Among the U.S. items is a cover of the Communist Yiddish paper Der Hammer, illustrated by Tony Award-winning set designer Boris Aronson, known for his work on Fiddler on the Roof and The Diary of Anne Frank. Perhaps the most poignant items are the most pedestrian, including a New York Socialist Party membership card.

The archive tells a story of vibrant Jewish life and activism and Brent is hopeful it might inspire more.

“There are many possibilities for new scholarship, classes, public programs, exhibitions, archival outreach, and artistic and literary works that draw on the Jewish Labor and Political Archives at YIVO,” he said.

The cover and interior of a New York Socialist Party membership card for the years 1917-1919. Courtesy of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
A 1905 picture of a Zionist-Socialist self-defense group from Daugavpils (Dvinsk), Latvia. Courtesy of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.